5 Burning Questions Leading Into Awards Season: From Streamers’ Quest to Win Best Picture to ‘Oppenheimer’ Being the Oscar Frontrunner

It’s back, baby.

As summer winds down and fall festivals begin anew, it’s time to get ready for another awards season. Anticipation, hope and uncertainty are in the air as studios, streamers and the army of Oscar strategists they employ gear up for the long slog of getting their movies in front of voters — all in pursuit of those golden baubles. The 2023-24 edition promises to be memorable, as it will unfold against the backdrop of two ongoing strikes, an upcoming presidential election and a newfound spirit of belt-tightening by the major media companies.

More from Variety

Read: Variety’s Awards Circuit for the latest Oscars predictions in all categories.

As Hollywood braces for the ups, downs and unexpected twists in the quest to win big at the Academy Awards, here are five burning questions consuming the movie business.

Is it Bradley Cooper’s turn at the podium?


Talk about long overdue. Cooper partnered to electrifying effect with Lady Gaga for his directorial debut, “A Star Is Born,” which scored top acting nominations for the pair and a best picture nod. It fell short, however, losing to “Green Book.” Over the course of his career, Cooper has seen a lot of love from Academy voters, even if they have yet to reward him. Consider this: Cooper’s nine career noms have been spread across five categories and six movies (“Silver Linings Playbook,” “American Hustle,” “American Sniper,” “A Star Is Born,” “Joker” and “Nightmare Alley”).

Well, he might be adding “Maestro” to that list. Cooper performs producing, directing, writing and acting duties for the Leonard Bernstein biopic, which Netflix is positioning as a major Oscar hopeful. And along with maybe adding another acting nom to his CV, Cooper can compete in two new categories, director and original screenplay. If he does, he will be one short of the record set by Kenneth Branagh, who has been nominated in seven categories.

Venice was the first stop on the awards season train before “Maestro” gets ready to pull into the New York Film Festival in October. But the lead-up to the big premiere hasn’t been without controversy. Cooper’s decision to don a prosthetic nose — with the fake schnoz featured, uh, prominently in the film’s trailer — sparked a firestorm of criticism, with some decrying it as antisemitic.

Could “Barbie’s” girl power use a pinch of “Saltburn”?


Last year, no women were nominated for best director after two consecutive years of female filmmakers winning the category. That dry spell is likely over. Multiple women are in the mix, including Greta Gerwig for “Barbie.” If the creator of the year’s biggest hit gets the nod, she will be the second woman to get two directing noms. But she may have company. Emerald Fennell, who helmed Amazon Studios’ “Saltburn,” could also get her second nod in the category, despite the mixed praise from critics. Fennell was nominated for writing, directing and producing the revenge drama “Promising Young Woman” in 2020, winning for original screenplay.

Can anything stop “Oppenheimer”?

OPPENHEIMER, Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer, 2023. © Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection
OPPENHEIMER, Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer, 2023. © Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Christopher Nolan’s look at the physicist who helped create the atomic bomb was an unexpected summer blockbuster. And Oscar pundits think it has a good chance of landing statuettes for best picture and best actor for Cillian Murphy. But the director and star shouldn’t start practicing their acceptance speeches just yet.

“Killers of the Flower Moon” is definitely a contender after debuting to a rapturous standing ovation at Cannes, but the fall festival lineup should field its share of players. On paper, Focus Features’ “The Holdovers,” which reunites director Alexander Payne and actor Paul Giamatti nearly 20 years after “Sideways,” seems to have the goods. How about “The Killer,” a pitch-black thriller from David Fincher that stars Michael Fassbender as an assassin? Or “Dumb Money,” a comedy about unlikely stock traders who make a mint on GameStop that’s giving off serious “Big Short” vibes? That one has “I, Tonya” director Craig Gillespie and an ensemble that includes Paul Dano, Seth Rogen and Shailene Woodley.

Will Michael Mann be first to cross the finish line?

Michael Mann is back behind the wheel with “Ferrari.” And the life story of a sports car visionary and his tangled family life is tailor-made for awards attention. Throw Oscar winner Penélope Cruz and Oscar nominee Adam Driver into the setup, and “Ferrari” could go the distance.

With a career peppered with classics such as “Heat” and “Collateral,” it’s hard to believe the master filmmaker has only been nominated once for directing, for “The Insider.” Could Mann finally get his proper due?

Can a streamer win best picture (again)?

Killers of the Flower Moon
Killers of the Flower Moon

Yes, yes, yes. The streamers are entering the fray with an arsenal of splashy projects. In addition to Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” Apple is backing Ridley Scott’s historical epic “Napoleon.” With those auteurs, the tech giant has a good chance of adding a second Oscar to a trophy chest that includes a best picture award for “CODA.”

Not to be outdone, Netflix, which has yet to land the top prize despite coming close with “Roma” and last year’s “All Quiet on the Western Front,” has a strong shot at being crowned winner. Along with “Maestro,” the company has the George C. Wolfe civil rights drama “Rustin” and Todd Haynes’ twisty thriller “May December.” But getting to the Oscar stage may require outmaneuvering “Oppenheimer,” which is backed by a traditional studio in Universal, and Nolan, a fierce advocate for the big-screen experience.

Current Oscars Tracking
(Sept. 8, 2023)

Best Picture
“Air” (Amazon Studios)
“Barbie” (Warner Bros.)
“The Holdovers” (Focus Features)
“Killers of the Flower Moon” (Apple Original Films/Paramount Pictures)
“Maestro” (Netflix)
“Oppenheimer” (Universal Pictures)
“Past Lives” (A24)
“Poor Things” (Searchlight Pictures)
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” (Sony Pictures)
“The Zone of Interest” (A24)

Greta Gerwig, “Barbie”
Jonathan Glazer, “The Zone of Interest”
Yorgos Lanthimos, “Poor Things”
Christopher Nolan, “Oppenheimer”
Martin Scorsese, “Killers of the Flower Moon”

Leonardo DiCaprio, “Killers of the Flower Moon”
Colman Domingo, “Rustin”
Paul Giamatti, “The Holdovers”
Cillian Murphy, “Oppenheimer”
Jeffrey Wright, “American Fiction”

Sandra Hüller, “Anatomy of a Fall”
Carey Mulligan, “Maestro”
Natalie Portman, “May December”
Margot Robbie, “Barbie”
Emma Stone, “Poor Things”

Supporting Actor
Robert DeNiro, “Killers of the Flower Moon”
Robert Downey Jr., “Oppenheimer”
Ryan Gosling, “Barbie”
Charles Melton, “May December”
Mark Ruffalo, “Poor Things”

Supporting Actress
Emily Blunt, “Oppenheimer”
Penélope Cruz, “Ferrari”
America Ferrera, “Barbie”
Lily Gladstone, “Killers of the Flower Moon”
Da’Vine Joy Randolph, “The Holdovers”

Original Screenplay
“The Holdovers”
“May December”
“Past Lives”

Adapted Screenplay
“All of Us Strangers”
“Killers of the Flower Moon”
“Poor Things”
“The Zone of Interest”

Animated Feature
“The Boy and the Heron”
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”
“Trolls Band Together”

Production Design
“Killers of the Flower Moon”
“Poor Things”

“Killers of the Flower Moon”
“Poor Things”
“The Zone of Interest”

Costume Design
“The Color Purple”
“Killers of the Flower Moon”
“Poor Things”

Film Editing
“Killers of the Flower Moon”
“Poor Things”

Makeup and Hairstyling
“The Color Purple”
“Poor Things”

“The Bikeriders”
“Killers of the Flower Moon”
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”
“The Zone of Interest”

Visual Effects
“Blue Beetle”
“The Creator”
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3”
“The Little Mermaid”
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”

Original Score
“Killers of the Flower Moon”
“Past Lives”
“Poor Things”
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”

Original Song
“I’m Just Ken” from “Barbie”
“What Was I Made For?” from “Barbie”
“Road to Freedom” from “Rustin”
“Am I Dreaming” from “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”
“TBA song” from “Trolls Band Together”

Documentary Feature
“32 Sounds”
“American Symphony”
“Little Richard: I Am Everything”
“The Pigeon Tunnel”
“Stamped From the Beginning”

International Feature
“Anatomy of a Fall” (France)
“La Chimera” (Italy)
“Perfect Days” (Japan)
“The Teachers Lounge” (Germany)
“The Zone of Interest” (United Kingdom)

Top 3 Nomination Leaders Tracking (Film)

  1. “Barbie” and “Killers of the Flower Moon” – 12

  2. “Oppenheimer” and “Poor Things” – 11

  3. “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” and “The Zone of Interest” – 6

Top 3 Nomination Leaders Tracking (Studios)

  1. Warner Bros. — 15

  2. Apple Original Films — 13

  3. Netflix and Searchlight — 12

Oscars Predictions Categories


Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Click here to read the full article.